World Series Game 7 preview: Perfect ending for Cards, Rangers
Tonight, we will get exactly what this World Series, this postseason and this baseball season deserve: the first World Series Game 7 in nine years. With this game, this postseason ties the major league records for most double-elimination games (four, set in 1981 and tied in 2001 and 2003) and most total postseason games (38, tying the record set in 2003), making it arguably the greatest postseason in the Wild Card Era (the 2003 World Series was over in six games), if not in baseball history.
This will be the 36th double-elimination Game 7 in World Series history. The home team has won the last eight but has gone just 18-17 in the first 35 overall. The winner of Game 6 has had the same rate of success, winning eight of the last nine Game 7s dating back to 1979 (the lone exception being the 1997 Indians, who lost Game 7 to the Marlins on the road in 11 innings), but going 18-17 overall. The last home team to win Game 6 then lose Game 7 was the 1975 Boston Red Sox, who, like the Cardinals with Missouri native David Freese, also won Game 6 on an extra-inning walk-off solo home run by a local product. In that classic game, Charlestown, N.H., native Carton Fisk hit one off Fenway Park's left-field foul pole in the bottom of the 12th. Then again, Boston was never down to its last strike in that series, never mind getting there in consecutive innings only to get a game-tying hit both times, as the Cardinals did last night.
One item you'll hear repeated often tonight is the fact that the Rangers haven't lost consecutive games since dropping three in a row at home to the Red Sox from August 23 through 25, a stretch of 46 games. You'll probably also hear a lot about Walking Dead games, game in which one team lost in so devastating a fashion a night before that their demise the next day seemed inevitable. Famous examples of that phenomenon include the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, following their crushing loss in the Steve Bartman game, the Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, following the Angels comeback late in Game 6, and the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 8-5. Perhaps the most applicable here as the Red Sox, who, like the Rangers on Thursday night, took a lead in extra innings and twice got within one strike of their first championship in decades only to lose in a walk-off.
• It's not official yet, but the expectation is that the Cardinals will go to their ace, Chris Carpenter to start this game on three days' rest, an option created by the postponement on Wednesday. The Cardinals will also have Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse available on full rest, but Lohse gave up three runs in three innings in Game 3 and is 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in this postseason, and Jackson gave up four runs in two innings as the starting pitcher in the Cardinals' Game 6 clincher in the NLCS and walked seven Rangers in his Game 4 start in this Series.
• The only argument against starting Carpenter in this game is that he has only made one start on three days' rest in his career, that coming in Game 2 of this year's Division Series against the Phillies, and was touched up for four runs in three innings in that game. Still, Carpenter is the Cardinals ace and the last two times he took the mound with the season on the line, in the final game of the regular season and Game 5 of the Division Series, he threw a shutout. Carpenter should have a short leash like any other Game 7 starter, with Jackson and Lohse available for long relief if necessary, but the Cardinals kind of have to start him.
• Carpenter allowed two runs in each of his first two starts in the World Series, going six runs and earning the win in Game 1 and going seven innings and getting a no-decision in the Cardinals' loss in Game 5. He threw 101 pitches in the latter game, which was played on Monday. All four runs scored against Carpenter in this Series have come on home runs, a two-run shot by Mike Napoli in Game 1 and solo shots by Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre in Game 5. Napoli is now 4-for-8 with two home runs in his career against Carpenter, while Beltre is also 4-for-8 with a double and that Game 5 home run.
• Matt Harrison was the loser in that ugly Game 3, giving up five runs in 3 2/3 innings, but he was victimized by an egregiously awful umpiring call and a Napoli error in the fourth inning of that game. Prior to the fourth, he had allowed just two hits, one an Allen Craig home run which accounted for the Cardinals' only run to that point. Albert Pujols led off the fourth with a single, but Harrison got Matt Holliday to hit into a double-play, only first base umpire Ron Kulpa blew the call at first base. Harrison then gave up a single to Lance Berkman, an RBI double to David Freese and fell behind Yadier Molina, leading to an intentional walk. Jon Jay then hit a ground ball to Napoli at first base, but Napoli's throw home to force out the run was wide and two runs scored. Harrison should have been out of the inning by that point, but after giving up another single and getting a force-out at home on his own fielding play, he was pulled. Harrison didn't pitch well in that inning. He gave up four legitimate hits, but he also pitched well enough to get out of that jam with just one run scoring. In each of his two previous starts in this postseason, Harrison allowed two runs in five innings in a Rangers win on the road.
• It's Game 7 of the World Series, so it's all hands on deck, but the game would have to go deep into extra innings for either team to even consider using their Game 6 starters. Colby Lewis, who threw 95 pitches Thursday night, is almost certainly done for the season. Jaime Garcia was pulled after 59 pitches, but likely is done as well. The Cardinals are also unlikely to turn to Fernando Salas, who threw 48 pitches in Game 6. Lance Lynn threw 32 pitches, so he may only be available for a short matchup situation. The only other pitcher who isn't a sure-thing to be readily available is the Rangers' Derek Holland, who threw just 23 pitches in Game 6, but did so on three days' rest after a 116-pitch start in Game 4.
• Of greater concern is the status of three of the Series' regulars. Matt Holliday came out of Game 6 in the sixth inning after injuring his right pinkie finger on Adrian Beltre's spikes in the process of being picked off third base. After the game, Holliday had a splint on the finger, which was diagnosed as "severely bruised." Mike Napoli rolled his left ankle on second base in the fourth, but stayed in the game and caught eight more innings. Nelson Cruz came out of the game in the 11th with a groin injury suffered in his at-bat in the top of the inning. All are questionable for Game 7, but given the situation, they'll play if they are at all able to do so.
• If Holliday can't play, he'll be replaced by Craig, who has two home runs in this series, one coming in the eighth inning of Game 6, and two other game-changing RBI hits. If Napoli can't play, he'll be replaced by Yorvit Torrealba, who is 5-for-6 in his two starts behind the plate in this postseason. If Cruz can't play, the Rangers would likely replace him with Mitch Moreland, who started 28 games in rightfield during the regular season. Moreland has two home runs in this postseason, one of them off Carpenter, but has just one other hit in this postseason and is 1-for-10 in this Series. Of those three possible substitutions, the Cardinals may actually benefit from starting Craig over Holliday, who is 3-for-19 in this Series and was already dealing with an injury in his right hand that was effecting his hitting before injuring the pinkie on that hand. The Rangers, however, would be hurt by either of their substitutions as Napoli is in line to be the Series MVP if the Rangers win, and Moreland has been one of this postseason's coldest hitters.